I try to gather input for the Happy At Work Project from many sources. Web sites, books, movies, magazines – whatever may give me some new angle on what makes people happy at work. So please don’t read too much into it when I tell you, that I just finished reading a book called Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent & Your Child a Better Person by Martha and William Pieper :o)
I saw the title, and thought that any alternative to discipline might be a nice thing to know about, in the search for ways to create better work environments. Indeed, much of what is says CAN be transplanted from the world of bringing up children to that of working together on the job.
The obvious notion NOT to take with you, is the one where managers take on the roles of parents and employees become the children. Where knowledge, authority and responsibility is seen to lie only with some people (those who happen to be leaders) and employees are expected to do as they’re told. Fortunately this mindset is slowly disappearing.
So back to the children: The book’s most important claim is that you should never punish children. This seems like a really strange notion at first, and my first thought was, that without punishment, how can you direct a childs behaviour away from that which is undesired, wrong or dangerous? But here’s their argument:
1: If you want your child to grow up happy and succesful, what the child needs more than anything else is an unshakeable inner happiness, a happiness that comes from knowing that it has the unconditional love.
2: When you punish children, they feel bad. Since all children beleive that their parents are all-powerful, they conclude that the parents must want them to feel bad.
3: Children then come to unconsciously seek situations where they feel bad, for instance by repeating behavious that gets them into trouble.
4: Much of the “problem behaviour” that parents want to correct in children is perfectly age-appropriate and will stop on it’s own. For instance, a 2-year old who cries every time the parents leave the room is perfectly normal, and punishing this will the child feel bad, and may even prolong this behaviour.
5: What’s important is to understand a childs needs, and to act from those, not from some idealized picture of how a well-behaved child should act.
The book DOES NOT argue, that you should let children do anything. This is not the permissiveness of child raising in the 70’s. Rather, if a child needs to be steered away from some behaviour, you should use what the the authors call “loving regulations”, ie. making the child stop the behaviour in a way that does not punish the child or make it feel bad.
Interestingly, they also suggest that you don’t reward children for good behaviour, since this will make the child focus more on the reward than on it’s own reasons for the good behaviour. This a case of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.
In my opinion, the Smart Love approach strikes an excellent balance between permissivenes and the “tough love” schoold of disciplining children, neither of which seem to work very well, and I am convinced that, the authors are on to something very important. Their arguments are backed up throughout with lots of stories from their many years of counseling parents and children.
So, what can that approach teach us about working together? Well, I think that the idea of a workplace without punishment is wonderful. A workplace where you could make a mistake, and not be the subject of either explicit or implicit punishment. A workplace based on and understanding of employees individual needs, and how those can be met. A workplace focused more on intrinsic motivations than on bonuses or other external rewards.
And ironically, I think this would result in a workplace where employees are NOT treated as children.